David Ragan’s First NASCAR Cup Series Win Was So Good, He Got 2 Trophies

For reasons clear only to serious racers, David Ragan has always embraced the high-speed, high-risk, high-reward tracks at Daytona Beach, Fla. and Talladega, Ala.

That seems odd since the second-generation driver has never been especially foolhardy or aggressive. Rather, he’s a quiet, introspective, socially conscious family man with a soft side for children. Witness: He gave up full-time racing in 2019 because—in his words—“I don’t want to miss my girls’ growing-up years.”

But Ragan made his mark before retiring in favor of his wife and two grade-school daughters. (He’s also deeply committed to helping publicize and fund-raise for the Shriners’ Children’s Hospitals).

On a hot Saturday night in July 2011, driving the No. 6 Ford for Roush-Fenway Racing, the Georgia native won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. That preceded by two years his other Cup victory, that one for Front Row Racing at Talladega Superspeedway. A bit of research shows that he’s always excelled on NASCAR’s most breathtaking speedways.

He got both his Cup victories, half his 16 career top-5s, and 16 of his 41 career top-10s at DIS and TSS. His resume at those tracks includes an Xfinity Series victory at Talladega and 11 other Xfinity top-10s there and Daytona Beach. He was leading and within sight of perhaps winning the 2011 Daytona 500 (remember Trevor Bayne?) when he was penalized for changing lanes too early on a late-race restart.

“I didn’t make that same mistake when we went back to Daytona for that summer’s race,” the 35-year-old Ragan recently told Autoweek, more accepting of the crushing black-flag penalty than you might expect. “Back then, the cars matched up and fit together well nose-to-tail. I had a good drafting teammate in Matt Kenseth and our cars worked together great. I’d push him or he’d push me whenever we could. It was a good night: I won and he finished second. (FYI: there were 57 lead changes among 25 drivers that night; Ragan led four times for 14 laps, including the final eight as the scheduled 160-lap, 400-miler went 10 overtime laps and still ended under caution).

Ragan’s not entirely sure why he’s always been good on NASCAR’s fastest tracks. He speculates it might be because he learned to race in close quarters in cars that weren’t always capable of simply pulling out and powering into the lead. He learned the hard way. Everything seemed to be a struggle.

“I didn’t have the fastest cars my first few times at those tracks,” he said. “I was in the ARCA series and had to learn patience. I had to make sure the move I was planning would work. Maybe I wasn’t as aggressive as some other people, but you can’t take foolish chances when you don’t have a fast car. Once I got in good cars, I was able to use what I had learned coming up. I felt comfortable and confident at those tracks.”

Ragan’s maiden victory came in his 163rd start, about four-and-a-half seasons after replacing the legendary Mark Martin at Roush-Fenway. He got there after prepping for five years in ARCA, Truck, and Xfinity for several mid-level owners. With veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig calling the shots at RFR, the team struggled from the start. Ragan wasn’t surprised when he was released after the 2011 season.

“We hadn’t performed up to expectations,” he acknowledged. “Our best season was 2008 (six top-5s, 14 top-10s, 13th in points) and our sponsor (UPS) probably wasn’t coming back, anyway. We just didn’t win early enough. By July, when we won at Daytona, I think it was already decided that I wasn’t coming back. It might have helped if I’d won earlier with Jack or if I’d won that year’s Daytona 500.”

Instead, Ragan was cut loose in favor of Ricky Stenhouse. Only 25 at the time, he signed with Front Row, where he won the May 2013 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega. He ran several more seasons for the Bob Jenkins-owned, Ford-based team before stepping away from full-time racing after 2019. Nowadays he’s a test driver for NASCAR and Ford Racing, appears often on FOX Sports’ NASCAR programs, and manages some real estate in Charlotte. Mostly, though, he stays busy and happy with his family.

And at least there’s this: Ragan got two trophies for winning the Coke Zero 400. Somehow, in the chaos and confusion and celebration of that first victory, the winner’s trophy was knocked over and broke. The speedway not only gave Ragan an identical replacement, but let him keep the original as well.

“No matter,” he said, “that was a very special night for me and my family. And not many drivers have two trophies for winning the same race.”

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